Jan 14 2010

Ten Traits of Successful Writers

Published by at 6:24 am under Getting Published,Writing Articles

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

1. Diligence.  A novel manuscript usually has 70,000+ words, most of which will be rewritten many, many times.  We’re talking about thousands of hours of work to complete a first manuscript that rarely earns much more than $5000.   (Happily, the pay tends to improve as you accumulate readers).

2. The ability to learn and improve. Look at something you wrote 2-3 years ago. You’re much better now, right? If you’ve plateaued even before getting published, you’re probably dead in the water.

3. Voice and authorial confidence. “John shot George. George fell down. John had won.” Ick.  Don’t just tell us what happened–tell us with style.


4. Patience. According to AgentQuery, it takes an agent about 1-2 weeks to respond to a query, 1-2 months to respond to a partial, and 2-4 months to respond to the full manuscript.  In all, I would estimate that it usually takes more than two years after finishing the manuscript to have a book on the shelves.

5. Written fluency and flawless mechanics. Absolutely do not send anything to a publisher with more than one typo per 1000 words.  Proofread or perish!

6. Initiative. No one’s going to stand over your shoulder making sure that you’re writing your manuscript or comic book instead of, say, reading this.  I would recommend holding yourself to a daily writing goal.  If you finish a page a day, you’ll draft a novel manuscript in a year or a comic book script in a month.

7. Clarity. Without clarity, your writing will flounder.  Brilliant writing that’s unclear is like a door with a broken lock.  It may be awesome in every other way, but it’s useless if people can’t get through it.

8. Professionalism.  To get published, you need to convince an agent and/or editor that you will make an intelligent and reliable business partner.  When you write a letter to an agent or editor, please start with a line like “Dear Jane Honda” rather than something impersonal like “Dear Editor” or “To Whom It May Concern.”  If you haven’t even put in the time to figure out her name, she will not have faith in you.  For more advice on acting professionally, please see this article.

9. Sociability/likability. There is literally no human endeavor where likability hurts.   This might mean the difference between a form rejection letter (“Sorry, but it’s not what we need right now…”) and a personalized rejection explaining what the editor would like to see revised.  Also, after you get published, your publisher will probably want you to promote your book.  If that seems intimidating, keep in mind that you have already  accomplished greater social feats before.  Have you been on a date or landed a job offer?  Either one requires a much higher level of commitment from the “customer” than selling a book.

10. An upbeat attitude. Yes, publishers reject more than 99% of their unsolicited manuscripts.  If that makes you want to curl up and cry, you might not have the energy to see your manuscript through a years-long process that will probably entail many hours of rewriting, rejection and resubmission.

BONUS #11: A day job.  It’s much easier to maintain an upbeat attitude if you have the ability to pay for food while you’re waiting to hear back from publishers.  Ideally, your day job will also give you a place to practice your writing.  If you have a day job at a media outlet or publishing house, you’ll also get some great opportunities to develop your audience and/or learn more about the process.

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10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Ten Traits of Successful Writers”

  1. thepopeofbeerson 14 Jan 2010 at 3:37 pm

    The hardest part for me so far is initiative. When writing time rolls around, all of a sudden I remember a thousand other things I need to do. “Oh, I need to wash my clothes, I forgot. Also, I should probably mow the lawn.”

  2. B. Macon 14 Jan 2010 at 5:28 pm

    Alternately, if you can’t come up with a page of the story, force yourself to write a page explaining why you didn’t manage to do the page that day. Heh heh. Or assign yourself a daily hour for writing?

    Or join a productive writing group? Sometimes it helps to surround yourself with friends and associates discerning enough to help you improve but friendly/polite/encouraging enough that you’d actually want to share a draft with them. In addition to SN, I recommend the particularly beginner-friendly Critters Writers Workshop, the unusually in-your-face Evil Editor, and the painfully thorough Query Shark. (QS looks at just queries, though).

  3. A1Writeron 14 Jan 2010 at 6:27 pm

    There is a book on amazon called 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists. All of them are spelled out in the table of contents if you use the LOOK INSIDE feature. Also, they are broken up into categories corresponding to the stages of developing a writing identity.

    Congratulations on finishing the writing of your comic book! Get some books published, and you’ll see how easy it will be to get that advice book out there. Also, all of this experience you rack up will only enrich the advice book. In the meantime, you can work on volume two. Personally, I’m hoping for a book on how to break the rules (successfully, of course).

  4. B. Macon 14 Jan 2010 at 7:28 pm

    Yeah, I think that selling the advice book second will be pretty easy. One agent told me that I’d have an offer as soon as I got something published. We’ll see.

    I feel pretty confident that my writing is on the cusp of publishability, but it is a wildly competitive field and I think it would be wildly cocky for any unpublished author to assume that publishers will be excited to work with him. (Unless you’re an A-list celebrity and/or have hundreds of thousands of paying readers in some other medium).

  5. Susan Boneson 15 Jan 2010 at 6:30 am

    Hey, B.Mac. Can I have a review forum? I’m writing a superhero story and I don’t know how to start it. Thanks!

  6. B. Macon 15 Jan 2010 at 8:09 am

    Okay, Susan. I’ve set one up here. Please remember to bookmark it!

  7. Banana Slugon 15 Jan 2010 at 7:29 pm

    I fail for life at initiative. I realized I hadn’t written in ages, but I don’t want my novel to die. So I’ve adopted a much less serious project to get back into the swing of things, and I must say I’m enjoying myself. I haven’t written a good SpongeBob fan fic since I was 12.

    (Don’t expect to hear me talk much about my writing for a while. XD)

  8. Wingson 15 Jan 2010 at 7:36 pm

    I fail at pretty much all of them…But I can always learn. You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but a teenage one learns remarkably well if given a cookie now and then.

    – Wings

  9. […] Superhero Nation enumerates the Ten Traits of Successful Writers. […]

  10. […] Superhero Nation enumerates the Ten Traits of Successful Writers. […]

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